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Blazers insist they want solid citizen
Eggers: Do Blazers get it? We'll know soon
Ask an NBA executive what he is looking for in the draft, and he's likely to tell you specifics ('perimeter shooting') or something general ('the best player available').
Mark Warkentien, Bob Whitsitt's right-hand man for the past eight years and the person in charge of Thursday's draft for the Trail Blazers, has been singing a different song to members of the media in the past week when asked about Portland's selection at the No. 23 spot in the first round.
It may or may not be what you want to hear.
'I know exactly what we are looking for,' says Warkentien, Portland's outgoing assistant general manager. 'A guy who can immediately enhance our standing in the community. Hopefully, a guy who will ultimately be an NBA player.'
Say what? Have things changed that dramatically in Blazerville?
'I like using this analogy,' Warkentien continues. Character 'has always been in our playbook. Over the years, there are guys we thought were unacceptable risks that we have passed on. This time, it's a point of emphasis. Our leadership is clear on the whole situation.'
After taking talented but tainted Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods in the previous two drafts, it would seem a 180-degree turn for the Blazers. Warkentien says it is a direct result of the community's disgruntlement with the deportment of Portland's players during the Whitsitt regime.
'We hear what the public and everyone have been saying,' Warkentien says. 'We get it. It is a requisite ingredient of the recipe. We are going to measure it and make sure we have a sufficient amount of character.'
The Blazers are doing one of two things with such stated intention: 1) changing their philosophy, either by public mandate or because it is the right thing to do, or 2) saying what they think the fans want to hear, while actually varying very little from the way they have operated in the past.
If Warkentien is true to his word, the franchise that brought us J.R. Rider, Gary Trent, Dontonio Wingfield, Rasheed Wallace, Ruben Patterson and Bonzi Wells will be searching the choir lofts and Boy Scout troops throughout America for the next Blazer draft choice.
If a player's rap sheet is longer than a gnat's eyelash, he need not apply.
Some fans would welcome the change. Others say a gamble on a player with some history of aberrant behavior is not only worth it but necessary, especially when choosing near the end of the first round.
Can you get a good player and good person at No. 23?
'We intend to do both,' Warkentien says.
Maybe it will be David West, the 6-9 AP National Player of the Year out of Xavier who earned his degree in communications in January, then took graduate classes as he completed his eligibility. He lists his role models as Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
Or Josh Howard, a 6-6 forward who spent four years at Wake Forest. Or an international player such as Argentina's Carlos Delfino, France's Boris Diaw-Riffiod, Greece's Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Turkey's Zaur Pachulia or Croatia's Zoran Planinic.
If the Blazers can move up in the draft Ñ 'we are researching opportunities' is the way Warkentien puts it Ñ the chance to get a solid citizen with talent multiplies.
Forgive this skeptic, but do the Blazers really want that, or are they just paying lip service on the character issue?
'The proof of the pudding is in the eating, brother,' Warkentien says. 'The day will come, we will make the pick, and I think you will like him.'